Cultivating True and Lasting Happiness
From a Talk by Pema Chodron
For a being to be truly happy we need to create the causes and conditions for our habits to dissolve. We need to live in a way to have our speech and our conduct contribute to cultivating this intention.
We need to be sowing seeds of happiness not hardness.
To experience True Happiness, we avoid certain things and cultivate other things.
We cultivate habits that will contribute to and foster true and lasting happiness.
What to Cultivate
Patrul Rinpoche, (1808-1887) a prominent teacher of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism suggested that we cultivate appreciation and gratitude; tenderness and curiosity and an attitude of generosity; a generous heart and generous mind.
Longchenpa (1308-1363) A major teacher in the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism, suggested ,“For a being to have lasting happiness they should realize that they have trust in their clear and open mind.”
One emphasized conduct, acting and speaking in a certain way. A focus on thinking about other people from a generous heart with the intention to dissolve the hard stuck patterns that get in our way.
One’s practice in daily life can then be about trying to create a way of life that dissolves the barriers; cultivating inner behaviors and outer behaviors that support that intention. These include but are not limited to:
How we speak to each other
How we speak to ourselves about our selves
As we cultivate attention in this way, we can become more and more aware of what adds up to sorrow and also what adds up to making things harder and harder to infiltrate; the inner and outer behaviors that do not contribute to lasting happiness.
One side emphasizes behavior and the other one emphasizes the quality of the mind, trusting the open fresh clear unprejudiced mind that is accessible at any moment.
If we could just shift our attitude a fraction of an inch; there it is, the unprejudiced mind, dying to come out, ready to emerge, willing to emerge.
As we go through life cultivating skills we can then simultaneously be working with conduct and with our open fresh mind. It then becomes about working with dissolving barriers.
It comes down to dissolving denial of all that we are.
The main truth is not lying to ourselves. It never brings any happiness.
Mindfulness practice is where we can begin to see how we might be lying to ourselves.
Lying to ourselves puts a barrier up, it is the ‘not wanting to look at whole parts of ourselves.’
Then, if we lie to another person, we are putting up another barrier, between us and others, armoring the heart.
Cocoon is the word in the Shambala tradition that is used for ego. The aspect of us that wants to stay safe and free from harm but does it in a way that is ego based.
When we are in the cocoon of the ego, then sounds, sights, body types, really, everything irritates us. We are putting up the target for the arrow
It is sad as the original intention of this behavior is to try to protect ourselves.
This behavior is just setting up the target for the arrow.
We become so reactive in the purpose of trying to protect ourselves and then we become like a walking target, every smell can be an arrow, some sights, some sounds. Some body types can be an arrow, other people’s religions and beliefs and on and on and on. We feel like we are being attacked all the time.
Really it is our habit that is the problem, we all are doing this to ourselves.
The good news is that there is an antidote. The antidote is that we may work on cultivating skills to step out of the cocoon of ego, to dissolve our fear, to dissolve barriers between us and other people. We may cultivate skills and an open heart and mind to then stay open to the world.
One of the skills is learning to refrain from doing the habitual thing.
As we become more and more aware of doing the habitual thing, we cultivate the ability to refrain.
For instance, if we feel aggression and the craving to say the mean word or to do the mean thing; it is then to become aware of that craving and begin to learn to sit with the craving and breathe, to let it transform and not say the mean word or do the mean action. The antidote is to not act yet also to avoid repressing, to learn to stay with the craving that wants to say or do the habitual thing and to do this very quickly as soon as it arises, before we do the mean thing, to ventilate it with the breath.
We then allow it to transform in the moment, over and over and over. Giving this process the time that it needs as it is arising, right now, in this moment.
That is why we do mindfulness practice, to get to know ourselves and to know our habits.
We can do this not with a sense of condemnation, but with a curiosity: “ If I do not do the habitual behavior, then what happens?” At this time we are entering into real practice.
If we don’t do the habitual thing, then what happens?
It isn’t about right or wrong, but what happens when we leave a space for something new to arise?
Generally what we do when there are strong emotions we make the habit stronger, so now we are refraining from the habitual thing, what then?
Well, important to know, even if we don’t know what to do, to know that this is a very fertile spot for the ground to attain enlightenment.
So, what is it advised to cultivate at this point?
Cultivate a kind heart. Cultivate appreciation, gratitude, tenderness, curiosity, and an attitude of generosity, a generous heart and a generous mind.
At the level of every day experience these things are very real for us.
Look at the condition of the world. If we have the wrong idea of what creates happiness then that can be the birthplace of violence and wars and aggression and all kinds of negativity that we see rampant on our globe spinning in space.
All this condition that is here on the earth is built on ideas.
Never underestimate the power that suffering and happiness have on our everyday life.
The kind of happiness that we are talking about is more than the 8 Worldy Winds of Pleasure and Pain, Loss and Gain, Praise and Blame and Fame and Ill Repute. These aspects of life arise and come to us just as weather does. We do have control over them. What we have choice over is our response to these powerful forces. An unskillful response bears the fruit of suffering. A skillful response bears the fruit of happiness and equanimity.
That kind of happiness that is limited is the kind that is always trying to get everything to work out on the pleasure side and try to at all costs to avoid anything on the displeasure side.
The usual idea of happiness it is that you get all that you want and none of what you don’t want.
True and lasting happiness abides and is present in all of these situations; the pleasure and the pain.
It is a deeper kind of happiness. It is not polarized.
One of the most important skills to cultivate to embody true happiness is Metta.
When we talk about Metta practice, Metta means friendship, this is a path that cultivates the root of this true happiness. Unshakeable happiness, happiness that is not swayed by outer circumstances.
Because this kind of friendship is the kind that begins with oneself
It comes from deep looking at ourselves. A synonym for this kind of friendship is understanding ourselves, which means being aware, being mindful of what is happening in our body right now, what is our mood and feeling tone right now, “Is it wild? Is it calm? Is it sluggish?”
Then, what is it?
Feel free to check in and identify your feeling tone right now, for just a moment.
Then, in meditation we can actually look at the content of our thoughts, touching in to them very lightly. We can have a sense of how we have been caught, to just kind of peek at the nature of the thoughts; i.e., worrying, planning, fantasy, pleasure, etc., then, the invitation is to just breathe and let it go, allow it to dissolve.
So there is like a touching in, a light touching and then the invitation to dissolve back into the breath.
Sometimes you can look deeply at what you are saying to yourself.
In meditation you can become more and more aware of belief thoughts. Like, ”I am having a belief thought that I am a bad person”, or “I am having a belief thought that I have got to get such and such done or everything will fall apart.” Or I am having a belief thought, “I believe dinner will be good.”
Whether we look carefully and note or lightly touch how we have been caught up and then go back to the breath, by these practices, over the days, weeks, months and years we enter into the process to be able to know ourselves. This is the idea of friendship with ourselves, that we know that we have confusion and we see it and we know it; we know that we have wisdom and we see it and we know it.
We then become aware of a growing ability to have real unshakeable friendship with ourselves that is not based on everything being the way that we would like it to be or that it should be, but it includes what we are not proud of and wish wasn’t there.
Everything is included and understood and the friendship with ourselves is not harmed by this understanding.
This is very important, that we could have this kind of friendship with ourselves, that it can go beyond blame and go beyond shame and beyond self justification. It is just seeing and deeply accepting that we have such a mixture of qualities, that we have some that bring us misery and some that bring us a lot of happiness.
It is the deep understanding and seeing of this that is actually the real meaning of metta.
It starts with ourselves.
It begins to expand to how we can look at other people. We start with knowing ourselves with this deep understanding and then we can begin to know others in this way as well.
Sometimes we have friends who are friends of the heart who know us and we know them so well. We know each other through success, failure, all manner of ups and downs. We have this kind of love for our friend, the friendship doesn’t end when we see that they are selfish or that they are angry or something like that.
In fact, the friendship somehow grows stronger over the years, there is nothing to hide. You have seen it all; anger, tears, joy. You can say, ”This is my true friend.”
There is no fear that they are going to find out who we truly are because they already know.
So in the same way with meditation we develop that kind of friendship with ourselves. We develop this deep looking, this understanding that grows.
The invitation is to take these understandings and bring them into our meditation, to bring them into daily life practice and as time passes and we begin to cultivate these skills, we can reflect and ask ourselves the question,
“Is this response bringing true and lasting happiness?”
It is an ongoing process, this true and lasting happiness, a careful tending to what is in this precious moment. A tending touched with compassion, generosity of heart and an increasing tenderness to ourselves.